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Heaven and Hell in Antwerp

The Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp (Belgium) took one hundred and sixty-nine years to build (yes, 169 years!), and building stopped in 1521. In a modern city, its size and intricacy still impresses, so just imagine how it might have looked to a peasant arriving from a village, where a two storey house is already a significant achievement.

The point of the cathedral, just like huge skyscrapers and malls nowadays, was a reminder of the who has the power in the social system, and an invitation to come in and contribute towards the collective building of common value systems. Think of the Petronas Towers and how they are seen as representing Malaysia and the achievements of Mahathir's Barisan Nasional government.

Literacy was rare in those days, and masses were in Latin. So, you may ask, how did people learn about the religion then? Good question, and you can take it as a special assignment and come back tomorrow with an answer ;-P ...

OK - I don't know, I suppose there must have been some portion of the mass that was in the vernacular, the sermon I suppose. Which would leave it open for the priest to interpret the liturgy and the scriptures in whichever way he felt was most appropriate.

The tympanum is the hemispheric portion above the door; and for an illiterate looking closely at it, there are clear messages to take home. I read recently (can't remember where) that only 10% of European medieval children lived to the age of ten years old, death was omnipresent, and the promise of Heaven and the threat of Hell were probably the main tools of religious instruction. On this tympanum, the message is carved out clearly.
Cathedral of Our Lady Antwerp tympanum

At the top sits the ruler, Jesus - who is also God according to Christians - sits at the top. On his right hand, you can see those who are chosen for eternal life and to the left are those consigned to damnation.
Cathedral of Our Lady Antwerp tympanum

below him, the Archangel Michael (or Gabriel) holds the scales of justice and wields an unyielding sword. Below him is a monk with a skull, dunno who he is.

On the Archangel's left side, the despair and fear of those who were rejected is clear
Cathedral of Our Lady Antwerp tympanum

and we even have Satan, or a demon, grabbing the hair of a condemned sinner
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Tourist in KL

Going downtown to areas where tourists go is always a bit strange for me - suddenly people start treating me like a tourist, calling me into their shop or offering me dodgy watches. In PJ, people generally may look at me a little curiously but mostly don't care; I guess it's because around Chinatown and areas like that, since they depend on tourists for a lot of trade (as opposed to in PJ), there is more competition and therefore it's more important to attract the tourists to them...

Anyway, when friends come to visit, I normally give them a little 'walking tour' that is based on a walking tour that I did once; it pretty much mirrors the one that's recommended in the Lonely Planet that our visitor had. Although it feels strange, it's also nice to be a tourist for a while - it gives you a chance to do and see things you normally wouldn't.

Here are some highlights from a walk around downtown KL :-)

Masjid Jamek in Kuala Lumpur
A view of Masjid Jamek shows old and new, Mughal, English and Arabic influences as part of the modern Malaysia

Fortune-telling parrots in front of the peacock tiles of Chettiar House on Lebuh Ampang
Fortune-telling parrots look bored in front of the peacock tiles of Chettiar House on Lebuh Ampang.

Painted shophouses in Medan Pasar
Painted shophouses in Medan Pasar reflected in the windows of a modern building

Sze Yah Temple in Kuala Lumpur Chinatown
One of my favourite places - the Sze Yah Temple (which I call the 'Yap Ah Loy Temple' - he founded it)

Chan See Shu Yuen Temple in Kuala Lumpur Chinatown
There are many more sights around Petaling Street - we had some very nice Curry Laksa, then ended up at the Chan See Shu Yuen Temple, when it started to rain heavily.

Kampong Baru pasar malam in Kuala Lumpur
Finally, a jump across town to the evocative Kampong Baru, where houses on stilts lie under the Petronas Towers. We strolled around, checked out the Pasar Malam, and had delicious ikan bakar :-P

God is American (and hates Liberals)

I have a terrible secret... I am subscribed to the Human Events newsletter :-O

OK, maybe that doesn't mean much to most Malaysians, but no doubt for American bloggers that would mark me out as a foaming-at-the -mouth right-wing conservative. These are the people who say that McCain "thinks like a liberal" and he is
very disappointing on opposing tough, life-saving interrogation techniques, in wanting to close down Gitmo, and in favoring constitutional protections for enemy combatants.
Only liberals think like that. Only liberal instincts tell us that if we are tough on them, they'll be tougher on us -- as if they need any excuse to be barbaric toward us. They just are. (Limbaugh)

Damn Al-Qaeda loving pussy liberals! Opposing torture - what an idea!

Any way, one of the writers there is Ann Coulter, famous for saying (amongst other inanities) "I don't think I've ever encountered an attractive liberal woman in my entire life.", "It would be a much better country if women did not vote." (yes, she is a woman), and "As soon as the poor start paying their fair share of the tax burden, they'll get a tax cut too." (cited here)

...back to the nationality of God, here is the wonderful example of jingoistic nonsense she started her latest article with:
Last Friday, on the Fourth of July, the great American patriot Jesse Helms passed away. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson also went to their great reward on Independence Day, so this is further proof of God. (Coulter)

Anyway... why do I bother reading her you ask? Well, it's always good to listen to people you disagree with.

Plus ça change…

Just a quick one to provide a link to a transcription of Bin Laden’s full speech . Worth reading, to understand his argument – ‘know thy enemy’ and all that.

He develops an argument which really owes a lot to Lenin’s analysis of global imperialism and the World War I (for example, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism) – basically saying that foreign policy in America is driven by multinational corporations. Specifically, blaming Kennedy’s assassination on “the owners of the major corporations who were benefiting from its [the Vietnam War] continuation”; asking why the Democratic Party did not force withdrawal from Iraq after the last elections, he says “they are the same reasons which led to the failure of former president Kennedy to stop the Vietnam war. Those with real power and influence are those with the most capital.”

Then he develops some more modern themes: global warming, poverty in Africa, globalisation – these are also blamed on “The capitalist system [which] seeks to turn the entire world into a fiefdom of the major corporations under the label of "globalization" in order to protect democracy.” This message seems somewhat more directed at your average younger person, of the anti-globalisation type.

Then, interestingly, he whacks in a message to the middle-classes too: “the reeling of many of you under the burden of interest-related debts, insane taxes and real estate mortgages”; later, he promises taxes (zakat) of only 2.5% under Islamic rule.

Wilkinson

Continue reading "Plus ça change…"
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